GREEN ISLAND

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Beautiful and lush, boasting good beaches and one of only three seawater hot springs in the world, Green Island (Lǜdǎo; 綠島) is a popular resort destination for Taiwanese looking for rest and recreation. But in the not too distant past, the phrase ‘off to Green Island’ didn’t conjure up visions of leisure pursuits in the Taiwanese psyche; quite the opposite, in fact, for once upon a time the very name of this tiny volcanic island, 30km east of Taitung, was synonymous with repression. It was where, under martial law, political opponents of the regime were sent to languish at the island’s notorious prison camp, sardonically referred to as ‘Oasis Villa’.

Today, the prison’s metal doors have been flung open and this once potent place of repression has been transformed into a museum and human-rights memorial. To a new generation of Taiwanese the island is thought of not primarily for its infamous past, but as a place to see pristine coral reefs and gorgeous tropical fish through glass-bottomed boats and hang out on the beach and soak in the hot spring under the night sky.

Smaller than Lanyu, Green Island is ringed by a 19km road that you can get around on a scooter in 30 minutes. With one main road hugging the shore and another leading up to Huoshao Mountain (great for hiking), getting lost is pretty difficult.

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categorysightspng Sights

freeGreen Island Human Rights Cultural Park MEMORIAL PARK

(綠島人權文化園區 Lùdǎo Rénquán Wénhuà Yuánqū; iconhourspng8am-5pm) Standing forlorn on a windswept coast, its back to a sheer cliff, this park complex documents Taiwan’s White Terror and Martial Law periods (1949–1987). The park is the site of a former prison where dissidents, activists and others considered ‘hooligans’ by the KMT were sent to languish. At the time of writing, the entire complex was undergoing repairs to make it accessible to the public. For the time being visitors are welcome to walk around the prison area popularly called Oasis Villa ( 綠島山莊; Lùdǎo Shānzhuāng) and inspect the cells where former prisoners such as former vice-president Annette Lu and Taiwanese writer Bo Yang (author of The Ugly Chinaman ) once spent years. It’s a sombre place, of course, so visit here first and devote the rest of the trip to more cheerful pursuits.

Little Great Wall VOLCANIC CRATER

Green Island has some intriguing volcanic-rock formations scattered around the coast, leading some Taiwanese to give the rocks curious names. The promontory called Little Great Wall ( 小長城; Xiǎo Chángchéng) is probably the most inaptly named, as it is in fact the rugged northern wall of the crater of the volcano that formed Green Island. The path to the promontory edge is only 300m long but ends at a pavilion where you can look down to Haishenping ( 海參坪; Hǎishēnpíng), the crater bay. Across the bay is Sleeping Beauty Rock ( 睡美人; Shuì Měi Rén), one of the formations that actually does resemble its name (once you figure out the neck the rest of the figure will fall into place).

Kuanyin Cave TAOIST SHRINE

The underground Kuanyin Cave ( 觀音洞; Guānyīn Dòng) is dedicated to Kuanyin and features a stalagmite wrapped with a red cape. Legend has it that during the Qing dynasty a fisherman became lost at sea and a fiery red light came down from the sky and led him to safety in the cave. The fisherman believed the light to be the goddess Kuanyin and the stalagmite in the cape to resemble the form of the goddess. The cavern was designated a sacred spot on the island and people come here from all over Taiwan to pay their respects.

Yutzu Lake SCENIC AREA

Not a lake but a sheltered cove, Yutzu Lake ( 柚子湖; Yòuzǐ Hú) is the site of the first village on the island. Some old stone houses still remain and nearby is a sea-eroded cave worth a look.

Green Island Lighthouse LIGHTHOUSE

The 33m-high Green Island Lighthouse ( 綠島燈塔; Lùdǎo Dēngtǎ) was built in 1937 under the Japanese after the American ship President Hoover struck a reef and sank.

Pahsien & Lunghsia Caves CAVES

A cool collection of sea caves, Pahsien Cave ( 八仙洞; Bāxiān Dòng) and Lunghsia Cave ( 龍蝦洞; Lóngxiā Dòng) are just off the main road.

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Diving & Snorkelling

One of the main reasons people come to Green Island is to take advantage of the island’s excellent coral reefs, some of Taiwan’s most well preserved. Tourist authorities report that Green Island has more than 200 types of coral and over 602 types of fish swimming around the coast. The waters surrounding the island are filled with tropical fish, possibly thanks to nutrients deposited in the water by the hot spring on the southern tip, and the government has gone to considerable lengths to protect the remaining reefs. Green Island is also popular with divers, who come from all over Asia and beyond.

Most hotels and guesthouses can arrange snorkelling and diving trips. Equipment can be rented at shops in Nanliao village and around the harbour. Rates depend on how many people you have in your group and the type of equipment you need to rent.

Tapaisha Beach ( 大白沙; Dàbáishā) has fine white coral sand and is known for its stunning coral reefs, making it a good spot for snorkelling, as is the small stretch of beach east of the Green Island Lighthouse.

One reputable dive shop is the Chufu Diving Centre (居福潛水 Jūfú Qiánshuǐ; iconphonepng672 238; 78-3 Kungkuan village), run by diving enthusiast Mr Tsai.

Hot Springs

History and strange rock formations aside, what brings people to Green Island is the sea; not just in the form of beaches, but also hot springs.

top-choice Chaojih Hot Springs (朝日溫泉 Zhāorì Wēnquán; admission NT$200; iconhourspng5am-2am) is one of the planet’s three known seawater hot springs. The water temperature varies from 53°C to 83°C, and is clear and odourless.

Because of their popularity, these hot springs are probably best visited during the low season. In the summer, the unshaded hot baths are a bit too intense during the day, and at night they’re always crowded. Under an evening sky in autumn or winter, a soak in the hot pools followed by a quick dip in the sea is positively blissful. There are two sets of pools to choose from: the older circular stone hot-spring pits down by the beach and the modern tile pools in the better-lit part of the complex. The latter set features pools of varying temperatures, from just above freezing to just below scalding, artfully shaped artificial privacy grottos and a good number of massage showers (overhead pipes jetting down spring water at jackhammer frequencies).

If you want to visit the beachside pools at night, take a torch with you.

Hiking

There are two main trails on Green Island, imaginatively called the Across Mountain Ancient Trail ( 過山古道; Guòshān Gǔ Dào) and the Across Mountain Trail ( 過山步道; Guòshān Bù Dào). Both begin within a few hundred metres of each other on the mountain road to Huoshao, the highest peak (281m) on the island. You can’t climb Huoshao because of the military base at the summit, but these two trails heading down to the seashore more than make up for that.

The trails are about 1.8km long each and run through thick, natural tropical forest. Paths are wide and clear, and have informative interpretation signs that nicely explain the common English names of plants. Best of all, the chances of spotting sika deer or the tiny barking deer are high. On a casual stroll on a Monday morning we spotted half a dozen deer, and heard many more crashing in the bushes.

categorytourpng Tours

Green Island Adventures (www.greenislandadventures.com) arranges year-round transport to the island, accommodation, and tailor-built tour packages including snorkelling, diving, hiking and, of course, hot springing. It also arranges the use of a glass-bottomed boat for tours around the island’s fabulous coral reefs.

categorysleeppng Sleeping

There are accommodation options all over Green Island. The greatest concentration is on the main street in Nanliao Village close to the harbour, but these tend to be older hotels. Some newer and more modern (dare we say even stylish) B&Bs have recently opened up around the island and have quite reasonable prices.

Green Island is a popular place in summer for Taiwanese tourists, which means that most hotels will be booked solid on weekends. During the low season (or even weekdays in summer), you’ll probably be met by people at the boat offering to bring you to their hotels and guesthouses; most hotels offer discounted prices.


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CHECKING IN & OUT

Green Island hotels have a strict 2pm check-in, so book ahead if you are catching an early ferry or flight. You’ll wait in the lobby for a long time if you just show up. Also, take advantage of pick-ups, especially from the airport, which has no scooter rental nearby.

Be aware that most hotels also have a 10am checkout. You can usually store your bags if you have a later flight but be sure to take them out of your room on time or you will be charged extra.


 

Jack’s Boutique Hotel HOTEL $$

(傑克飯店 Jiékè Fàndiàn; iconphonepng0963-221 279; www.jack.e089.com.tw; 20 Yugang Rd, Nanliao Village, 南寮村漁港路 20 d/tw NT$2200/3600; iconinternetpngiconwifipng) With its bright colours and dudish beach decor, this place feels more like an upmarket hostel than boutique hotel. If you’re coming to Green Island for the works (snorkelling, hot springs, scooter riding) consider its packages (from NT$2300 per person in summer).

Green Island Breeze Homestay HOMESTAY $$

(綠島微風民宿 Lùdǎo Wéifēng Mínsù; iconphonepng671 617; 58-1 Chaokou, Chungliao Village, 公館村柴口 58 1 d/tw incl breakfast NT$2200/3200) Rooms are new and massive in this modern house with a washed-pebble exterior. The location is a bit out of town but across from one of the best swimming and diving beaches on the island. Airport pick-up is included and the homestay can help with scooter rentals. Good weekday discounts and discounts for single travellers.

Evening Sun B&B HOMESTAY $

(幸福月光民宿 Xìngfú Yuèguāng Mínsù; iconphonepng672 126; http://eveningsun.okgo.tw; 41 Gongguan Village Wenquan, 公館村溫泉 41 r from NT$1200) If you want to stay on the other side of the island this is a pretty good choice. Rooms are small but brightly painted and airy, and the homestay is just a couple of minutes from the hot springs and hiking trails. To find Evening Sun head north from the hot springs and take the second left into Gongguan Village, a tiny settlement across from the sea. The homestay is a few houses in.

Lijing Hostel HOTEL $

(麗景山莊 Lìjǐng Shānzhuāng; iconphonepng672 000; 47 Kungkuan Village, 公館村 47 dm/s/d NT$500/800/1000) A friendly place run by local Mrs Tien, the Lijing offers very basic dorm accommodation and rooms that are ageing but clean and about as cheap as you’re going to get in summer. Good location in a village with lots of dive shops.

Camping Ground CAMPGROUND $

(露營區 Lùyíng Qū; iconphonepng672 027, 671 133) Under reconstruction at the time of writing, but should be reopened by the time you read this. The visitor information centre takes all reservations and may rent out equipment as it did in the past. Prices should be around NT$300 per grass site. The area can be a bit buggy, though, so bring repellent.

categoryeatpng Eating

Nanliao Village has quite a few seafood restaurants and a few awful attempts at Western food. Most shops are only open for lunch and dinner, so don’t wait to eat. There are a couple of breakfast-only places on the main street and two convenience stores selling the usual drinks (the only places for fresh coffee), sandwiches and noodle concoctions.

Local dishes include sea mushrooms ( 海香菇; hǎi xiānggū ) and garlic octopus ( 蒜香章魚; suàn xiāng zhāngyú ).

Restaurants go in and out of business often. At the time of writing, Fisherman (釣漁人 Dìaoyúrén; dishes NT$50-100; iconhourspnglunch & dinner; iconenglishpng), on the main street of Nanliao Village with a deck facing the Pacific, was popular with the crowds for cheap seafood and a laid-back atmosphere.

chap-grey-info-png Information

There’s good wi-fi at the airport. The one ATM in Nanliao Village is not reliable, so bring the cash you need.

Visitor Information Centre (遊客中心 Yóukè Zhōngxīn; iconphonepng672 027; 298 Nanliao Village; iconhourspng8am-5pm) A minute’s walk from the airport, the centre has maps and information about the island’s history, culture and ecology. Staff can make reservations for the campground in the south of the island but have poor English-speaking skills.

chap-grey-info-png Getting There & Away

Air Daily Air Corporation (iconphonepng362 489; www.dailyair.com.tw) has three daily flights between Taitung and Green Island (NT$1028, 15 minutes) on small 19-seat propeller planes. During winter flights are often cancelled due to bad weather. In summer you must book several weeks ahead. Note that the tiny airport on Green Island is literally at the edge of Nanliao Village, about 500m from the main drag. Just walk out the front door and you are on the road.

Boat From June to September boats run hourly between Taitung’s Fukang harbour and Green Island (NT$460, 50 minutes). The first boat leaves Fukang at 7.30am, Green Island at 8.30am. The schedule outside summer changes daily and is unreliable because of weather conditions. At all times it’s a very uncomfortable ride that makes most people seasick.


THE GREEN ISLAND VOMIT BARGE JOSHUA SAMUEL BROWN

Green Island is among Taiwan’s loveliest offerings, and as a traveller and writer I recommend a visit highly. However, a word on the boat. I am an islander, of sorts (Staten Island, New York, where the ferry to and from Manhattan, though hardly a strenuous voyage, was a daily routine for a decade). I’ve travelled extensively by ship and ferry around Taiwan, by riverboat through China’s Pearl River Delta and Southeast Asia, and by a host of seagoing vessels large and small around Maritime Canada and in the Pacific Northwest.

Only twice in my extensive travels have I found myself, face pressed against a rolling floor, stinking of my own vomit, begging for the sweet, sweet release of death.

The first time was on the boat to Green Island. The second was on the boat back.


 

chap-grey-info-png Getting Around

Bicycle There’s free rental at the airport if you’ve flown to Green Island; you’ll need to show a passport or Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) and boarding pass.

Bus Buses circle the island eight times a day, stopping at various tourist points, and can be flagged down anywhere. Schedules are posted at each stop.

Scooter Scooter rentals (NT$300 to NT$400 per day) are available at the harbour or from your hotel; none available at airport.

Taxi There are very few taxis on Green Island; arrange one through your hotel or at the visitor information centre.